The Baltimore Orioles stayed on the field past 1 a.m. May 2 to complete a doubleheader sweep in Baltimore, but their offense seemed to sleepwalk for the next few days.
The Birds were limited to six runs during their three-game weekend series in Minnesota, and though three runs were enough to win a May 2 shutout, the O's dropped the final two games by scores of 6-1 May 3 and 5-2 May 4.
OFFENSE OFF TARGET
On paper, the pitching matchups for the series seemed to give the Orioles a chance to tee off. All three Twins starters -- Ricky Nolasco (6.67 ERA), Kevin Correia (7.73) and Phil Hughes (5.14) -- entered the series having allowed more than five runs per nine innings this year. Most teams have had little trouble this season pounding the trio of Twins hurlers.
The Orioles, though, couldn't seem to join in on the fun. Nolasco, Correia and Hughes each delivered a quality start during the series and combined for a 2.42 ERA (six runs in 22.1 innings). Correia and Hughes both picked up victories, while Nolasco -- despite losing -- pitched a complete game during the opener.
All three are veteran pitchers and certainly are capable of tossing a good game. But for the Orioles to face three struggling starters in a row and generate so little production against them is a poor sign for the offense going forward. These are the types of pitchers the O's need to hit hard and pile up runs against, because things won't get easier when they have to face more talented hurlers … including the Birds' May 6-8 series against Tampa Bay, during which both David Price and Chris Archer are slated to pitch.
Nelson Cruz essentially served as a one-man O's offense during the series, blasting a pair of third-deck two-run home runs. Cruz had four RBIs; all other O's hitters combined for two. The Orioles were particularly poor at cashing in on scoring opportunities, going 2-for-22 with runners in scoring position during the series.
JIMENEZ BREAKS THROUGH
For the Orioles, the primary positive note that came out of the series was starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez's breakthrough outing May 2.
After beginning his O's career with five uninspiring starts -- none of which lasted longer than six innings -- Jimenez took the mound May 2 with an 0-5 record and a 6.59 ERA. Many Orioles fans weren't happy about the lack of effectiveness from Jimenez, whom the Orioles signed to a four-year, $50 million contract during the offseason.
On May 2, though, Jimenez displayed the kind of dominance that inspired the Orioles to give him the most expensive pitcher contract in franchise history. Jimenez overpowered Twins hitters from the get-go, showing the kind of command and movement on his pitches that was lacking from many of his previous starts.
Jimenez worked a season-long 7.1 innings, throwing 76 of his 118 pitches for strikes, and held the Twins scoreless while limiting them to three hits. His 10 strikeouts were the most for any O's pitcher this season. At one point, Jimenez tore through 17 consecutive batters without allowing a hit or walk (an error accounted for the only Twins base runner during that stretch). Jimenez lived up to his reputation as a ground ball pitcher, recording 10 outs on grounders as opposed to two on fly balls.
Jimenez earned his first Orioles win, and gave himself a momentum boost heading into his next start. Perhaps the key to Jimenez's success was that the calendar flipped over to May. Jimenez, a notoriously slow starter, has a career 5.23 ERA in March and April, nearly a run higher than his ERA for any other month.
The Orioles, it seems, have been hesitant to take full advantage of MLB's new instant replay system. The Birds have challenged three calls this season -- winning two -- but, on several occasions, have opted not to challenge plays that they might've been able to overturn.
One such play occurred May 3, when new reliever Brad Brach attempted to pick off former Oriole Pedro Florimon at first base in the seventh inning. First base umpire Marcus Pattillo ruled Florimon safe. Manager Buck Showalter came out to argue, but opted not to ask for a review.
From my view, the replays conclusively showed that Florimon was tagged before his hand touched the base, so I'm not sure why Showalter didn't call for a challenge. The call likely would've been overturned, and a Twins runner would've been taken off the bases. Instead, Florimon ended up scoring on a Joe Mauer three-run homer.
Showalter and the Orioles could be more aggressive in challenging calls. In this instance, the replays seemed to conclusively show the initial call was wrong, and it was late enough during the game that there was little reason for the Birds to keep their challenge in their pocket. Perhaps Showalter and his video replay coordinator will be less passive as the season goes on.